Collaborative sales operations for assemble-to-order, make-to-order and design-to-order scenarios


Many organizations support assemble-to-order, make-to-order and design-to-order manufacturing and fulfillment options as part of overall customer and business strategy. All of these options are inherently more complex and collaborative compared to simpler quote-to-cash (make-to-stock, software..) processes.


Unfortunately, the following scenario is pretty common in many organizations making coordination of cross-functional workflows and quote-to-cash process long, error-prone and inefficient. More often than not this situation is recipe for customer dissatisfaction, long sales cycles and longer time-to-value/revenue.



Challenges and Pain Points

The complexity and coordination needs increase along the assemble-make-design-to-order continuum. Following are the typical challenges in different scenarios


  • Translating the configured/quoted product and service to constituent part, assembly instructions and delivery/implementation requirements
  • Scheduling the customer quote/order for assembly and providing customer with reasonably accurate delivery date
  • Communicating purchasing needs to suppliers
  • Coordinating assembly with external suppliers/contract manufacturers
  • Coordinating delivery/implementation with the customer
  • And keeping customer/sales/customer support aware of the status of the order
  • Customer onboarding


In addition to many of the challenges in an assemble-to-order scenario, make-to-order scenarios add the following to the list

  • Coordinating internal and/or external manufacturing
  • Quality control during various stages


Design-to-order is by far the most complex in terms of coordination required from a sales operations workflow and quote-to-cash process perspective. In addition to all of the above, additional challenges in this scenario include

  • Design coordination with customer
  • Qualification of new parts and suppliers
  • Handling customer-driven and internal changes
  • Ensuring supplier readiness
  • Supplier quality engineering


Assemble/Make/Design-to-order Sales Operations Workflows and Quote-to-cash Process Orchestration

ZFlow is ideally suited for supporting the digital orchestration needed for assemble/make/design-to-order quote-to-cash process. For many industries and organizations in fact the process usually starts with a sales inquiry, request for a quote, or a quote.





Sales Inquiry

Sales inquiry is the first step of the sales operations workflows and the first meaningful step of the lead-to-cash process. Sales inquiries can come from multiple places and it is very beneficial to have a workflow to evaluate and filter serious inquiries for attention and engagement. Sales inquiries can also be considered as early forecast (with appropriate probability) to support long range sales and operations forecast.



Sales Opportunity

A sales inquiry can become a sales opportunity once the buyer (or buying organization) shows some intent. It is at this point that salespeople start to enter (often reluctantly) the intent as opportunities in CRM systems (like Salesforce, Dynamics). Many of the sales opportunities fizzle out. Some become real and require salespeople to generate sales quotes.


Sales Quote

Other than for the most trivial opportunities, quoting is a very cross-functional and collaborative process. For complex scenarios, quoting requires multiple teams working concurrently as well as input, review and approvals from different departments. Products and services that can be configured can also leverage commercially available CPQ systems (if they work well), internal apps or Excel based CPQ systems. Quoting might even require going back-and-forth with prospects/customers and some level of negotiation. One of the key contract terms is delivery and fulfillment date(s). Many organizations provide delivery date estimate based on Available To Promise (ATP) capabilities of ERP systems.

Once the prospect/customers agree to the quote it is usually converted into a sales order. The conversion of a quote into a sales order that can be used to assemble, make, design and deliver products and services is non-trivial.


Sales Order

Sales order is where the rubber meets the road. While the sales quote resides mostly in CRM and quoting systems, sales orders firmly belong in the ERP and Supply Chain planning systems. Sales orders are used for many processes, including sales and operations planning, manufacturing planning, purchasing, supply chain planning and for collaboration with contract manufacturers and distributors if they are in mix.


Internal Design/Manufacturing/Assembly/Test Activities

Once the sales order is planned for execution, internal design, manufacturing, assembly, and test activities are orchestrated so that the product/service can be delivered to the customer fully as promised and on time.


Sub-contracting Assembly/Manufacturing/test activities

Certain industries such High-tech, Pharma use contract manufacturing, assembly and test services extensively. In these instances, the sales order and related information is sent to contract manufacturing partner(s). Depending upon the extent of the relationship, the product(s) and related services are delivered directly to the customer and fulfillment operations are completed by the sub-contracting partner.


Systems Integrators/Distributors in the mix

For complex products and services, systems integrators and distributors are often involved in the delivery, setup, integration and onboarding of the customer. Smooth coordination is even more important in this scenario.


Customer onboarding and reducing time-to-value for customers

Customer onboarding is often the first time the customer experiences your organization’s capacity and capability to deliver (value) on the promised products and services. Depending on the complexity of the product and related services, customer onboarding require considerable coordination internally, with suppliers/distributors and systems integrators.

If your organization is primarily a Software-as-a-service organization we highly recommend that you read and implement some of the best practices recommended by Lincoln Murphy.


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